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Nature Watch Austin

air date: January 7, 2012

What birds are headed our way and how can we welcome them? Nature Watch Austin co-authors Lynne and Jim Weber identify winter migrants and native owls. In their garden, meet their favorite evergreen ferns. On tour, visit Georgean and Paul’s wildlife sanctuary on the Balcones Canyonland. Daphne’s pick of the week is winter wildlife favorite: possumhaw holly. Question of the Week explains why a Round Rock teacher’s tomato sprouted from the inside and how the students got a new plant! Steve Kainer from Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery demonstrates how to make a disappearing fountain to refresh wildlife all year long.

Question of the Week

My ripe tomato’s sprouting from inside. What’s going on?

Thanks to JoAnn Nash from the Round Rock ISD Opportunity Center for this great question! One of her colleagues, Cindy Taylor, brought in this odd tomato for JoAnn’s class to explore. Here’s what happened. Last summer, Cindy’s air conditioner went out and this tomato got a bit warm. This situation is called vivipary, Latin for “live birth,” when seeds germinate inside the parent plant. If things are just right, the internal seeds sprout and grow out through the skin. Since the same thing can happen in a compost pile, the students decided to plant their tomato. As it took root, they watered and fertilized it with water from their fish tank. For the winter, they’ve moved their new tomato plant into their greenhouse. I bet they get the first tomatoes on the block this year!

Many thanks to JoAnn Nash for the photo!

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Plant of the Week

Possumhaw Holly

Possumhaw Holly

Ilex decidua

Our pick of the week is Possumhaw holly, Ilex decidua. Cedar waxwings, like this one dining at the Kyles, love the fall and winter berries. They are also favored by mockingbirds, American robins, and other wildlife. Despite the horrible summer, the Kyles' possumhaws are covered with berries. This native shrub is deciduous, adding colorful interest to what might otherwise be a drab winter garden. It gets 15 to 30 feet tall, and 15 feet wide, so could actually be treated as a small tree. Like other hollies, the leaves are thick and glossy during the growing season, and these turn yellow in the fall, before they are dropped. This plant really needs full sun to produce a good crop of winter berries, but it can tolerate some shade. As you might guess, since it sailed through the hellacious summer of 2011, it should not be overwatered, and may rot if it is planted in an area with poor drainage. But even though it doesn't like much water, you should still give it a drink every now and then during long periods without rainfall.